Sure, planks and crunches can help you build your core. But there's something to be said for taking your abs workouts off the mat and onto machines.
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Integrating gym machine ab workouts into your routine helps you strengthen your core in more dynamic ways, says Jessica Mazzucco, CPT, a NYC-based certified personal trainer.
Think about it: Cardio machines like treadmills and ellipticals let you work your abs for 10, 20 or 30 minutes at a time for improved muscular endurance. (They also burn abdominal fat!) And strength machines like the glute-hamstring developer increase the intensity of tried-and-true isolation ab exercises like sit-ups.
But you can't hop on just any machine and hope for a six pack. You need a plan. Here are nine trainer-approved cardio and strength gym machines for your abs. Plus, the best ones you can buy to outfit your home gym.
4 Cardio Machines for Your Abs
Ellipticals, treadmills, stationary bikes and rowing machines are pivotal to building functional core strength. After all, just like you need to brace your abs when running and cycling, having a strong, stable core helps you more easily take on everyday activities.
But cardio machines don't just sculpt your abs by building muscle. They also help you reduce the amount of fat that sits between your muscles and skin to uncover your six-pack.
1. Stationary Bikes
Does the stationary bike work your abs directly? It can. Your core stabilizes your pelvis and keeps your hips square in your seat. For the best ab burn possible, tuck your tailbone, brace your core and keep your upper body steady as you ride.
The Best Stationary Bikes for At-Home Workouts
Don't bypass the elliptical machine the next time you hit the cardio floor. It may seem low-key with its gliding foot plates, leading you to wonder, "Does the elliptical work your abs?" But it can, in fact, provide a great workout for your midsection.
To get the most ab burn on the elliptical, focus on standing up tall and not leaning forward. This will force your core to work harder to stabilize you.
The Best Ellipticals for At-Home Workouts
Whether you're pounding the pavement or working up a sweat on the treadmill, your core is in charge of your running posture. It's also the link between your arm and legs — in charge of transferring force from your upper to lower body.
Just don't hold the handrail while you run or walk. Only use it when getting onto and off of the machine. If you lean on the handrail, you not only take work away from your abs, but you also cheat yourself out of caloric expenditure.
The Best Treadmills for At-Home Workouts
Which Is Better: Elliptical or Treadmill?
In the game of treadmill vs. elliptical for belly fat, the real winner is... it depends. Which one can you put more effort into? Because greater effort means more calories burned.
Whenever you sprint on the treadmill or elliptical, you're forced to contract your abs with more emphasis than you would with moderate-intensity training. This produces maximal power output during which you burn a higher number of calories both during and after you exercise.
The lingering effect of this high-caloric expenditure is called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). By using cardio machines this way, you not only feel your abs working, but you also burn abdominal fat faster. Your best bet is to alternate back and forth from high to low intensity (ex. 30 to 60 seconds of each).
4. Rowing Machines
Rowers are famous for their back-strengthening abilities, but they work the front of your torso equally hard. During your rowing workouts, your back should be straight, but slightly leaned back from your hips. With correct form, you'll feel a bit like you're almost (but not quite) at the top of a sit-up.
The Best Rowing Machines for At-Home Workouts
5 Strength Machines for Your Abs
Each of the gym machines listed below can help you strengthen all the muscles in your core, including your rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscle), obliques (in the sides of your torso) and transverse abdominis (the deep ab muscle).
1. Cable Machines
The cable machine is one of the most versatile strength machines at the gym. Just about every cable exercise will work your core to some degree. But cable exercises like the Pallof press and horizontal wood chop are among the most effective ab exercises anyone can add to their routine, Mazzucco says.
The Best Cable Machines for At-Home Workouts
2. Pull-Up Bars
Good news for those who can't quite do a pull-up... yet. You can also use the pull-up bar at your gym to sculpt your abs with exercises like hanging leg raises, Mazzucco says. Any time you're hanging from the bar and bracing your core, you're working your abdominal muscles.
The Best Pull-Up Bars for At-Home Workouts
3. Captain's Chairs
The captain's chair is an effective piece of ab equipment that you'll find in many gyms. And if yours has one, take advantage of it with leg lifts, says certified strength and conditioning specialist Henry Halse, CSCS.
With the chair, you place your forearms on two raised handles. Then, supporting your body through your arms and shoulders — and your back against the pad — you use your abs to raise your legs in front of you.
The Best Captain's Chairs for At-Home Workouts
4. Glute-Hamstring Developers
Many CrossFit boxes and gyms feature a machine nicknamed the GHD (short for glute-hamstring developer). But, despite its name, it isn't just useful for lower-body workouts. It'll give you fierce ab workout, too. All you have to do is get on it face-up with your feet against the plate and torso hanging off of the large pad. Then you can use the GHD for sit-ups or crunches.
But be aware: This machine isn't for newbies or those with back problems or tight hip flexors. You need to have a strong core before working with the GHD.
The Best GHDs for At-Home Workouts
5. Decline Benches
When you do sit-ups or other abs exercises on a decline bench, you're increasing the amount of gravity you're bringing into the equation. It works your muscles in a different way and adds intensity your sit-ups.
The Best Workout Benches for At-Home Workouts